As about 2% of babies born in the United States do, Alex failed the routine newborn hearing screening he received before he left the hospital. At first his parents didn't think much of it, since the nurse told them “further testing often shows the baby is fine”. But when 6 weeks later, repeat tests showed Alex had moderate to severe hearing loss, his mother's heart sank.
"It was like somebody knocked the wind out of me," his mom remembers.
Alex’s parents immediately had Alex fitted for hearing aids, as recommended by his doctor, and that's when she noticed something strange.
Whenever her baby wore the hearing aids, he flinched at loud noises. Plus, he seemed to hear just fine when he wasn't wearing the aids -- for example, Alex would turn around when his mother shook a rattle several feet behind his back. "He's my fifth child, and I knew he could hear just fine," mom says. "When I said this to his doctors and audiologists, they told me I was in denial and I needed to learn to accept his diagnosis."
But it turned out mom was right. (Aren’t they always?) She drove Alex from their New Jersey home to a specialist in Boston, who diagnosed a condition called auditory neuropathy. The doctor said the hearing aids weren't helping him -- in fact, they were hurting him by over-amplifying sounds -- and she told the parents to stop using them immediately.
Pediatric hearing experts say too many doctors and audiologists are missing the diagnosis of auditory neuropathy, which has been recognized only relatively recently, and damaging children's hearing by giving them hearing aids that blast babies' ears with loud noise. "Four to six times a week I get calls from parents with stories like this," says Charles Berlin, a research professor in the department of communications sciences and disorders at the University of South Florida. "There are cases where hearing aids have actually destroyed the hearing of children with auditory neuropathy."
Misdiagnoses happen too often
Routine screening of newborns for hearing loss, which is required in most states, has helped thousands of babies each year by getting them hearing aids and other treatments early, giving them a better chance of developing speech.
But many pediatric hearing experts worry the flip side to newborn screening is that children with auditory neuropathy, who make up a sizable minority of the 12,000 babies born each year with hearing loss, get swept into the much larger group of children with typical hearing loss.
In auditory neuropathy, the sound enters the inner ear normally, but the transmission of those signals to the brain is impaired, according to the National Institutes of Health. For most children with auditory neuropathy, hearing aids can damage the ears by making sounds too loud, in much the same way sitting in a rock concert can hurt your ears, says Deborah Hayes, an audiologist and professor of physical medicine, rehabilitation and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
People with auditory neuropathy hear sounds, but they're distorted. While the disease affects different people in different ways, this recording shows what some people with auditory neuropathy hear. Some children grow out of auditory neuropathy. For others it causes profound hearing loss. It's not known exactly how many children have the disorder, but Berlin, the lead author of a study of 260 children with auditory neuropathy, believes it affects nearly 15% of children with hearing loss.
Like Berlin, Hayes says she sees many babies whose hearing loss is misdiagnosed and who are given hearing aids that can hurt them. "I would like to say it doesn't happen that often, but it does," she says.
Question: Is this “malpractice”, to improperly diagnose a patient’s problem and prescribe the wrong from of treatment that results in further damages?
Answer: More likely than not, yes.
Understand that medicine and the practice thereof is not a “crystal ball”. A doctor does not have the ability to look at you, touch you, take a picture, etc.., and know exactly what is wrong with you. Often, the process of treating a patient is a trial and error.
However, the trial and error must be based upon conclusions drawn from medical experience and learning. A lazy diagnosis, merely because you don’t understand the medicine or are too busy or lazy to give a patient the proper attention, is almost always malpractice. With new technology, physicians and medical staff should have improved means of diagnosing and treating patients. But new ideas and medical breakthroughs are still only as good as the medical professional who takes the time to keep updated and learn them.
It is your responsibility to know that your medical professionals are competent. If you suspect otherwise, then look for another. Further, there is never anything wrong with getting a 2nd opinion. Should a medical professional seemed angry or upset at the suggestion, then don’t walk—run!
Malpractice occurs everyday, and per the statistics, results in nearly 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Be aware, be vigilant and be knowledgeable. You can help yourself and your family by asking the right questions, and ultimately, getting the right professional. Alex’s parent s refused to accept the answer they were getting. Good for them, and good for Alex!